Imagine walking down the fairway as a volunteer follows steps behind holding a big, GPS-enabled pole, charting all of your shots from tee-to-green down to the foot, which then provides insights into your game that powers your golf practice and on-course strategy.
Now snap out of it. Unless you play elite tournament golf, your game isn't getting the ShotLink treatment anytime soon. In order to view robust insights about your performance, you're going to have to take mapping and data into your own hands.
But the good news for all amateurs is that consumer technology is getting quite good for all golfers to utilize. I've used a variety of products and apps in 2020, and I am on board with shot tracking as a game-improvement tool. It's given me a better understanding about tendencies in my game. It has also given me a sense of accountability on every shot. An app doesn't care if I was focused or not over a shot, but I sure don't want to see a chunked wedge or topped drive in my history.
What are the benefits of golf shot tracking?
I've been shot tracking my rounds for most of 2020, and the most obvious answer is that it will tell you how far and where you actually hit each of your clubs, and also send up some red flags as to which parts of your game need work. Apps can show you shot dispersion by club, which can help you game-plan for competitive rounds.
The data can also help you communicate more effectively to your coach on what ails your golf game. I recently visit with Eddie Lee, the Director of Instruction at Hualalai Golf Club, which employs not only Trackman Range, but a new Trackman-enabled 'Golf Hale' instruction studio. Many of his members and students are now using club sensors and tracking technology.
"A lot of golfers now are educated," said Lee. "They're doing a lot of summaries after their round, or keeping journals."
"For me, if they're empowered with more knowledge, it makes my job easier. It streamlines the learning curve and makes it a lot easier for me to produce a lesson."
Arccos says users generally take off 4.2 points (strokes) off of their handicap index the first year. I've dropped about two in six months.
What are some negatives for shot tracking?
- Shot trackers are always going to miss penalty strokes and usually short putts or gimmies, so they don't fully remove the need for scorecards. I use a watch to keep score or stick to the paper copy.
- You need to make sure your equipment's batteries are charged up. Phones typically need at least 50% battery to last the whole round (my older iPhone 7+ needs closer to 85%). Arccos' Caddie Link clip will only last about two rounds. Watches can vary greatly. Garmin and Shot Scope watches should be able to go at least two and possibly three to four rounds.
- The data presented in the app is only as good as it is accurate, and each round, regardless of which app you use, will require a few minutes of review to check score, clubs, shot location accuracy and putt lengths.
- You'll be shown a ton of numbers in the dashboards. But it's still up to you to discover the key insights and create a game plan for improvement. You also need to ask yourself if you should be traking every round or only those in competition or serious play.
- It's next to impossible to transfer your data between apps, so whichever one you choose to use, you're committed to it unless you want to start over from scratch.
Golf shot tracking options for amateurs is surging and is now available on more devices with more stats to track than ever before. An arms race appears to be afoot. Want to add shot tracking to your game? Here are five options to try, ranging from watches to iPhone to club tags. Are you already tracking shots and using advanced analytics for your game? Let me know who you're using in the comments below!
Shot tracker with iPhone: V1 Game
Golf apps for smartphones have been out for a few years now, but they started in a pretty archaic way: manually entering shots from each location and assigning a club. That's cumbersome and sure to drive your time-aware playing partners insane. A relative upstart in the smartphone tracking space, V1 Game ($59.99/yr for their premium app), has the best mobile app tracker I've tried and has been constantly rolling out new features. Their app uses GPS breadcrumbs to detect "probable" shot locations. After the round, in the mobile app or on the desktop, you can review each location and assign a club or delete that spot. The in-round GPS maps also outperform Arccos.
V1 Game's dashboard is colorful, continually improving and comes with Strokes Gained data, but it is still a step below Arccos. It has an Apple Watch app that is good for GPS and has tracking capability, but I found it a little glitchy and preferred using their iPhone app.
V1 Game pairs with V1 Coach, so students can send stats and round performance to a coach, who can respond with tips and drill recommendations. If you're wary of spending on hardware but are interested in shot tracking and own a smart phone, start with V1 Game.
Shot tracking using your smart phone with club tags: Arccos
Arccos has been a shot-tracking leader the last several years. They use club tags screwed into the butt of each club's grip, which is paired with a smart phone to automatically detect the location and club of each shot. Their analytics dashboard, viewable on your phone or desktop, is beautiful and insightful. It's so good they charge $99 per year (free for the first year). Their latest update allows golfers to select a target handicap to use for their Strokes Gained metric and see what parts of their game are holding them back.
Arccos also recently added the Caddie Link belt clip ($99), so golfers no longer need to keep their phone in their front pocket in order to detect shots. You do, however, still need to start the round on your phone and leave it on.
There is a more affordable alternative than Arccos or Shot Scope: GolfPad GPS offers a free app along with $99 club tags. They also have a "live tracking" feature that lets friends or family follow your round.
Tracking with a watch and club tags: Shot Scope V3
If you're the type of golfer who wants shot tracking but nothing to do with your smart phone during a round, Shot Scope' s V3 is the obvious choice. It debuted earlier this summer and is a significant upgrade over the V2 with a much smaller and lighter watch. For $219.99, you receive the GPS watch and club sensors that screw into the top of each club. The watch detects the swings in the sensors and automatically assigns the club you used. They have a solid dashboard in their mobile app and on desktop, but unlike Arccos or other apps, there is no subscription to re-up annually.
One of the pain points of shot tracking is setting the exact pin location, which can really affect your approach, chipping and putting stats. Shot Scope's "Pin Collect" feature is the best I've seen. Once on the green, you can click on the "1", "2" or "3" putt button and the watch will automatically tag your location of where the pin is. 2021 Update: ShotScope has added their own version of Strokes Gained statistics to their app. Read more.
Golf watch (with optional club tags): Garmin Approach s62
Garmin has been a leader in GPS and hardware for both golf and other outdoor and fitness pursuits. Their Approach s62 watch ($499.99), released in early 2020, comes with a very accurate and seamless shot tracker. My favorite thing about this watch is the real-time shot measuring display. It's great to know how far you've walked since your tee shot so you can know when to look in the rough or woods for your golf ball. It's saved me strokes. The shot detector in the watch is quite good until you're hitting shots close in around the greens or are putting.
Of course, with just a watch, there's no way to tell what specific club you hit. Garmin's CT10 club sensors ($300) pair with their watches (you can also buy a three-sensor starter pack). The Approach s62 has great battery life and doesn't tether to your phone, so with the CT10 sensors, it's a truly phone-free shot tracker.
As I mentioned in the intro, shot trackers are bad scorers. But the Approach s62 is an exception. It surfaces your score when you're on the green and just takes a couple taps to record your score and move on.
The Garmin Golf app leaves a little to be desired when it comes to advanced golf stats (it is also much more limiting if you aren't tracking putts and short-game shots) compared to V1, Arccos and Shot Scope.
Game analytics using DECADE
The vast majority of commercial shot-tracking apps and hardware specialize in ease of use and quickly returning AI-powered data and insights. But they don't include real coaching. The flip side is DECADE, founded by instructor Scott Fawcett. DECADE ($199/year) doesn't have any hardware or iphone app. Fawcett teaches his strategy methods in seminars, and there is a host of strategy and instruction videos in the platform. Students use the application to chart shots manually in the desktop app after the round. Charting a round takes about 15 minutes (it has two metrics to chart the others don't: Mental Score and "Recoveries") and once submitted, DECADE returns a highly detailed report of every facet of your game.
DECADE comes with a wide array of instructional videos focused on strategy and playing the odds. It is primarily for elite amateurs or professionals looking to win at a very high level. However, for avid amateurs interested in improving for their club championships or local tournaments, this may be an option worth exploring.
In a perfect world, DECADE would team up with hardware provider like Arccos or Shot Scope and blend highly analytical coaching with a more seamless way to track shots. Maybe someday.
Best golf shot tracking apps: My picks
I haven't been able to conclusively pick one shot tracker because they all excel in slightly different ways. Currently, I am mainly using the Garmin Approach s62 for GPS and shot measuring but Arccos for the dashboard and analytics. To help you figure out what's right for you, here is what each excels in:
Best value shot tracker: V1 Game
Best shot tracking hardware: Garmin Approach s62 and CT10 sensors
Best dashboard: Arccos
Best overall shot tracking with no subscription needed: Shot Scope V3
Best expert instruction: DECADE